The vision of hardwood flooring in the basement may tantalize, but here’s one time when sitting on the fence to mull over the nature of basements isn’t a bad thing.

For example, think back to that basement flood when the sump pump failed. Reflect upon the wetness that occasionally seeps in through your basement walls and floor when it rains a lot. What if the sewage backed up?

Luckily, for your average concrete basement floor, the biggest problem is plain old moisture. And I don’t necessarily mean streams of it — just steady drips, dampness and excess humidity.

Consider the fact that basements are built directly upon or next to soil, which is cold and damp, and also makes the concrete walls and floors cold. When warm interior air hits the cold surface of basement walls and floors, it condenses, producing wetness in your basement.

To make matters worse, concrete floors are porous, and hydrostatic pressure can cause water to come through the concrete slab and onto the basement floor at times of heavy rain, especially if you’ve got cracks.

The bottom line in a basement is don’t go with flooring that will be ruined by wetness because it is almost always present at one time or another.

If you’re considering how to finish the floor in your basement, here are some sage words of advice.

• If you’ve got leak in the basement, fix it before you put down any flooring.

• Porcelain or ceramic tile, applied directly to a clean, flat and dry concrete surface, works well in a basement. It can be cleaned easily too.

• A garage-floor-type epoxy paint works well too, and sponging or other painting effects can create the look of stone. Cleanable.

• Be cautious about laying carpet directly on the concrete floor because it will readily grow mould between the naturally damp basement floor and the carpet, and this can result in that typical mouldy basement smell. Be sure to use appropriate underlay materials, and even with that in place, be prepared to replace carpeting every once in a while, especially after any episodes of excessive moisture in the basement. Rubber-backed carpet tiles may be helpful because they can be selectively removed and replaced.

Subfloors needed in some cases
• Other finishes should be used with a subfloor (a floor that is slightly raised above the concrete to allow drainage to a floor drain or natural evaporation underneath) to maximize the length of life of the flooring. In this category, consider sealed cork for a basement that does not get heavy use. Carpeting can also benefit enormously from being used on top of a subfloor. Linoleum or vinyl also works on a subfloor. (Gluing directly onto a concrete floor can cause the tile to contort when the temperature differential is large between the cold floor and the warmer tiles.)

• If you want a wood floor, opt for engineered wood (wood layers pressed together with a resin or glue) applied on a subfloor. Avoid solid wood flooring because it can buckle or warp with moisture. A floating laminate floor may work since it is not attached to the floor, but excess moisture can easily degrade the laminate, especially if it is of poor quality.

– Sylvia Putz is a journalist with an interest in decor and design. She’s written for the TV show Arresting Design;

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